26 January 2018
by Michaela Martin

What’s driving quality management in higher education worldwide

Quality management in higher education is driven by both the demands of public policy and the desire to enhance one’s market position, finds a new IIEPUNESCO survey on quality management practices worldwide.

Quality management is a long-standing and evolving practice in higher education worldwide. Yet, how its related processes and tools are designed and used has often been less clear, even to those within the university community.

To help fill a major information gap on quality management, the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP), with support from the International Association of Universities (IAU), conducted a trilingual survey. Garnering over 300 responses from universities worldwide, the resulting analysis features responses from a mixture of public and private and from all continents. One of the objectives was to better understand whether quality management is driven primarily by public policy or the desire of universities to enhance their market position. By understanding the catalyst, universities can be better supported in developing quality management that it is more aligned to their objectives.

External and internal drivers

In the survey, we made a distinction between external and internal drivers, while also referring to the state-market dichotomy. In many higher education systems, governance reforms have led to the creation of external quality assurance schemes and national qualifications frameworks. This has also triggered the development of quality management mechanisms so that higher education institutions would be in a better position to respond to the requirements of external quality assurance.

Meanwhile, other institutions – such as in Indonesia or Senegal– were simply requested by the government to create structures and processes for quality management as part of a national governance reform to improve the quality and relevance of higher education. These drivers can be called external ones.

In administrative contexts where institutions are operating closer to the market, the enhancement of the external image or an aspiration for international visibility are important elements that can strengthen their market position. Since quality management can be seen as an element that supports both of these drivers, one can expect that it forms important internal motivations for the development of quality management for higher education institutions that operate more closely to the market.

Motivating factors

So, how much do external and internal drivers actually factor into the development of quality management in a higher education institution?

According to the survey, the biggest impetus is often to meet the requirements of a national quality management system, as indicated by 89 per cent of responding institutions (see the below figure). In a close second, international aspiration – referring to the desire to become a university that attracts foreign students, staff, and funds – came in at 80 per cent, followed by the requirements of a national qualification framework (77 per cent). At the same time, three quarters (75 per cent) of the institutions indicated that a government request to develop quality management was another important external driver.

Geographical nuances

When looking at the responses by region, there are variations in terms of which factor plays the most important role. In Africa, as seen in the figure below, an enhancement of self-image and international aspiration is comparatively more important than the requirements of a national accreditation system. For example, not all countries on the African continent have an external quality assurance system or national qualification frameworks (NQFs), suggesting that public policy plays a minor role in the demand to develop quality management in institutions. In particular, in the francophone African region, only Senegal has a quality management agency, and there are no NQFs.

In Asia and the Pacific, the requirements of a national EQA system and an enhancement of self-image (both at 93 per cent) play a central role. In Europe and North America, national EQA requirements dominate as the most common motivation for adoption of quality management, whereas in the Latin American and the Caribbean region, an enhancement of self-image is the most important external driver. The requirements of a NQF along with a government request to develop quality management (32 per cent and 23 per cent respectively) play the least important role in North American institutions. This is in comparison to responding institutions from other regions because the qualifications frameworks are much less developed there.

Context matters

The research results suggest that both public policy and market requirements are equally important drivers for quality management among the responding institutions. It therefore seems that many institutions – when developing their quality management systems – continue to be driven by both public policy and the market. In addition, there are vast global variations in quality management that are linked to the external drivers specific to different regions and countries. Therefore, context matters when looking at – and learning from – quality management practices worldwide.

Discover more of the findings from this international survey on quality management on IIEP’s website.